Looking to change your diet, so that you can achieve natural pain relief through nutrition? Print out this shopping list, then pick up some of these items the next time you’re at the store. Once you’ve stocked your kitchen with the right ingredients, it’s just a matter of mixing & matching till you find out what suits your palate (and what doesn’t!)
Everything here is a nutritional winner for fighting chronic pain. Just keep in mind that the more diversity you have in your meals, the more you will strengthen your body’s tool set for fighting inflammation.
My Natural Pain Relief Shopping List:
1. Green leafy vegetables for cooking (kale, chard, mustard greens, bok choy, collard greens, spinach…)
Ideally, these will be fresh, organic, and locally-grown. In some markets, you can get them pre-washed and pre-packaged as well. If you don’t find that option, and if having to wash them will serve as an obstacle for buying them at all, go ahead and get them frozen or canned. And if price is an issue, don’t worry about whether they are organic or how far they have traveled. Just get the damn cooking greens!
2. Green leafy vegetables for salads (romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, butterhead lettuce…)
I have learned from a few sources that iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value. Whether or not that’s true, I find that the lettuces above are very tasty and meet the “green leafy” criteria of anti-inflammatory vegetables. If washing lettuce seems like a pain in the royal tuchas, opt for the pre-packaged, pre-washed salad mixes — as always, preferably organic and locally grown.
3. Additional vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, celery, beats, radishes, corn, green beans…)
I put these vegetables in everything — salads, soups, and stir-fries. I steam ‘em, boil ‘em, fry ‘em, and eat ‘em raw. I add salt, spices, dressing, sauces, or nada.
A good mix of vegetables is really the basis for healthy and delicious cooking with a lot of variety. Again, it’s ideal if you buy them organic and locally-grown, but it’s more important that you just buy them, period. So get ‘em fresh, frozen, or canned, if need be.
The key, I have found, is to mix & match the vegetables in different ways every day — with other vegetables, proteins, fruits, spices, and oils. The possibilities are limitless. When I view the act of preparing my meal as a creative outlet, it becomes a fun, exploratory, and relaxing endeavor, rather than a chore.
4. Fruits (apples, dates, papayas, apricots, coconuts, kiwis, pears, bananas, mangoes, pomegranates…)
Again, you can buy these ingredients fresh, frozen, or canned. If you’re buying the canned variety, avoid the ones with syrup, and instead choose the ones packed in their own juice. You can also buy dried fruits that are whole, sliced, flaked, or chopped.
Mix & match fruits with each other for sweet, delicious, refreshing treats. Add them to vegetable salads for a tangy twist. Put them in soups, stir-fries, and other concoctions to sweeten the deal.
I add bananas, raisins, and coconut flakes to my slow-cooked oatmeal, which I eat for breakfast. In the summer, I eat frozen berries with milk. Whenever I make chicken soup, I add prunes, apricots, raisins, and/or coconut.
5. Nuts and seeds (walnuts, pistachios, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds…)
I love nuts. Some people say I am nuts, which may be why I have an affinity for these things, but check it out:
You can put these in salads, soups, stir-fries, and grain dishes; you can mix them with dried fruits or eat them alone for a tasty snack; you can take them to the gym for the post-workout pick-me-up; and you can buy them in the form of paste or sauce (like almond butter or tahini) and eat them with vegetables or whole-grain crackers.
Nuts and seeds rock, because they don’t go bad! And here’s another cool thing: They give you top-notch protein.
In my experience, protein is the #1 thing I need to eat, to keep my body out of pain. During the extended period that my nutritionist closely monitored my food intake and its correlation on my pain levels, we discovered that I need a good chunk of protein every four hours — or my pain levels inevitably jack up, and as a result, my energy suddenly and totally crashes.
So I always try to have nuts and seeds on hand. I have been known to leave them in my car, bike pannier, backpack, carry-on travel case, and purse. And more than once, doing so has saved my tired little chronic pain ass.
**Here’s a gourmet tip, courtesy of my Iraqi Jewish aunts: Add sliced almonds, raisins, cardamom, and salt into your rice cooker when making rice, for a sweet and hearty dish. Or stuff a walnut in a date, for a quick and tasty energy boost.
Oh yeah, and one more thing: Peanuts are not supposed to be so hot for people on an anti-inflammation diet. I’m not quite sure what the deal is there, but there are so many other nuts to choose from, I always go for something else instead.
6. Grains (brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, millet, steel-cut oats…)
Do yourself a favor, and buy yourself a rice cooker. It’s got the damn measuring cup built in, so you can’t go wrong: 2 cups water, 1 cup rice, or any permutation thereof. Dump ‘em in, turn it on, and go away. It will ding when it’s done.
Other grains, like quinoa and bulgur, are pretty easy to cook too: Boil water, add half as much grain, and cook it on low for about 20 minutes. I add a mixture of vegetables and fruits to cooked quinoa or bulgur, then top the grain with a super-duper anti-inflammatory tahini sauce I’ve concocted, for a yummy-delish dish. (More about that in another post.)
7. Legumes (garbanzo beans, lentils, black beans, fava beans, black-eyed peas…)
In Israel, a common snack is dried and salted fava beans. They are soooooo good! I think I will go back just to eat some.
Beans, like nuts and seeds, are a quick & easy source of protein. I know I should probably buy them dried, but you can bet your ass I’m not going to take the time to let them soak overnight, only for me to have to boil them as yet another step.
This is where you’ll find yours truly collecting buttloads of cans: lentil soup, bean soup, spicy vegetarian chili, and just plain old beans — the latter of which I either heat up in five minutes or mix & match in a bowl with canned green beans, artichoke hearts, beets, and vinaigrette dressing.
8. Animal proteins (fish, chicken, beef, eggs, cheese)
There is quite a bit of debate about dairy products vis-à-vis inflammation. OK maybe I’m the only one debating (but doing it really, really loudly), because I love dairy so much! The rule of thumb, as I understand it, is if you gotta have it (I do, I do), opt for yogurt, cottage cheese, yogurt cheese, and feta cheese over other dairy products, and ideally, use dairy from goat’s milk.
As far as fish goes, try to get small fish (sardines and mackerel) and wild salmon. They are all high in omega-3 fat, which helps fight inflammation. For beef, get lean, organic cuts wherever possible.
9. Oils (flax seed oil, olive oil)
These are the best oils for fighting inflammation. Use olive oil for cooking. Use flax seed oil in your home-made vinaigrette dressing (I’ll post my recipe in the near future); pour it on top of your hot black beans, and add salt; or use it in my funky, anti-inflammatory version of coleslaw (ditto on the recipe).
Just don’t use it for cooking! It will go rancid, which will make your face turn purple when you eat it, which will make your roommates look at you funny and castigate you for reading my blog.
10. Natural sweeteners (stevia, pure maple syrup, honey, agave nectar…)
There is a lot of debate (for real this time) about natural sweeteners. I like the ones I’ve listed, because they are a step down from the hard-core sweetness of what we know as sugar — whether it’s white sugar or so-called “organic cane juice.” (Um, what’s up with that marketing ploy?)
Using them has retrained my taste buds and has left me feeling less dependent on the sugars generally found in ice cream, cookies, and the like.
I am by no means an expert on the difference between cane sugar and other natural sweeteners, but I can say this: Stevia has 0 calories, is safe for diabetics, and adds sweetness to whatever you’re eating. How cool is that? In addition, I understand that sweeteners like honey retain vitamins that one does not get from cane sugar.
If you’re going to use stevia, beware: It is super-concentrated, and if used in too high a dose (which can be as little as two pinches, depending on the quantity of food you are making), it tastes bitter — in aw “eeew, nasty!” kind away.
OK people, that’s it. Go forth and shop in good health !